In praise of an editor past

Frances William Browin from the Sep­tem­ber 15, 1968 Friends Jour­nal.

When I became an edi­tor at Friends Jour­nal in 2011, I inher­it­ed an insti­tu­tion with some rather strong opin­ions. Some of them are sourced from the pre­dictable well­springs: William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White’s foun­da­tion­al mid-century style guide and the edi­to­r­i­al offices of the Chica­go Man­u­al of Style. But some is all our own, log­i­cal­ly test­ed for con­sis­ten­cy with Chica­go but adapt­ed to Quak­er idio­syn­crasies.

One of our most invari­able (and con­test­ed) for­mats comes from the way we list con­gre­ga­tions. Quick aside for non-Quakers: you will often see a Quak­er meet­ing list­ed as  Town Month­ly Meet­ing, Town Friends Meet­ing, Town Quak­er Meet­ing, etc. Peo­ple often have strong opin­ions about the cor­rect ways to write them out. Occa­sion­al­ly an author will insist to me that their meet­ing has an offi­cial name that use con­sis­tent­ly across their pub­li­ca­tions, busi­ness min­utes, Face­book pages etc., but after a few min­utes with Google I can usu­al­ly find enough counter-examples to prove incon­sis­ten­cy.

To cut through this, Friends Jour­nal uses “Town (State) Meet­ing” every­where and always, with spe­cif­ic excep­tions only for cas­es where that doesn’t work (meet­ing is named after a street or a tree, etc.). Town/state abbre­vi­a­tion in parentheses/capital-M-meet­ing. This for­mat­ting is unique to Friends Jour­nal—even oth­er Philadelphia-based Quak­er style sheets don’t fol­low it. We’ve been doing it this dis­tinc­tive­ly and this con­sis­tent­ly for as long as I’ve been read­ing the mag­a­zine.

For­tu­nate­ly we have dig­i­tal archives going back to the mid-1950s thanks to Haver­ford College’s Quak­er and Spe­cial Col­lec­tions. So a few months ago I dug into our archives and used key­word search­es to see how far back the for­mat goes. Trav­el­ing the years back it time it’s held remark­ably steady as “Town (State) Meet­ing” until we get back to the fall of 1962. The Octo­ber 15 issue doesn’t have con­sis­tent meet­ing list­ings. But it does announce that long­time Friends Jour­nal edi­tor William Hubben was to begin a six-month sab­bat­i­cal, with Frances Williams Browin to fill in as act­ing edi­tor.

It didn’t take her long. The next issue sees a few paren­the­ses uneven­ly applied. But by the Novem­ber 15th issue, nine­teen meet­ings are ref­er­enced using our famil­iar for­mat! There’s the “mem­ber of Berke­ley (Calif.) Meet­ing” who had just pub­lished a pam­phlet of Christ­mas songs for chil­dren, an FCNL event fea­tur­ing skits and a covered-dish sup­per at “Swarth­more (Pa.) Meet­ing” and the announce­ment of a promi­nent arti­cle by “Ken­neth E. Bould­ing, a mem­ber of Ann Arbor (Michi­gan) Meet­ing.”

I’ve tried to imag­ine the scene… Browin sit­u­at­ed in her new tem­po­rary office… going back and forth, forth and back on some list­ing… then final­ly sur­pris­ing her­self by shout­ing “enough!” so loud­ly she had to apol­o­gize to near­by col­leagues. At the end of the six months, Hubben came back, but only as a con­tribut­ing edi­tor, and Browin was named edi­tor. Friends Jour­nal board mem­ber Eliz­a­beth B Wells wrote a pro­file of her upon her retire­ment from that posi­tion in 1968:

Her remarks usu­al­ly made sparks, whether she was express­ing an opin­ion (always pos­i­tive), exert­ing pres­sure (not always gen­tle), or mak­ing a humor­ous aside (often dis­turb­ing). For in her ami­able way she can be tart, unex­pect­ed, even prej­u­diced (in the right direc­tion), then as sud­den­ly dis­arm­ing­ly warm and sen­si­tive.

This sounds like the kind of per­son who would stan­dard­ize a for­mat with such resolve it would be going strong 55 years lat­er:

She was so entire­ly com­mit­ted to putting out the best pos­si­ble mag­a­zine, such a per­fec­tion­ist, even such a dri­ver, that her clos­est col­leagues often felt that we knew the spir­it­ed edi­tor far bet­ter than the Quak­er lady.

It’s a neat pro­file. And today, every time an author rewrites their meeting’s name on a copy­edit­ed man­u­script I’ve sent them for review, I say a qui­et thanks to the dri­ven per­fec­tion­ist who gives me per­mis­sion to be prej­u­diced in the right direc­tion. Wells’s pro­file is a fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse into a smart woman of a dif­fer­ent era and well worth a read.

Vacation from reality

Okay, yes it’s insane to go on a vaca­tion when one is unem­ployed. But logis­ti­cal­ly, it’s the best time to go: no jug­gling work sched­ules, no fin­ish­ing up projects before you go, no tak­ing cell phone calls from har­ried col­leagues. Julie had saved up the mon­ey and start­ed plan­ning a get­away this sum­mer and reser­va­tions were all in place when I sud­den­ly found myself out of a job. We could have can­celed but Octo­ber brought us more than our share of dis­ap­point­ments and we decid­ed to go for it. Three guess­es where we are:
Walking right down the middle of Main Street USA Walking right down the middle of Main Street USA Walking right down the middle of Main Street USA Disney family
h3. More pho­tos:

See “all the WDW photos”:

For something completely different…

In the news front, I’m no longer work­ing at FGC. Rea­sons are com­pli­cat­ed, as is often the case. In eight years I did some good work with some great peo­ple. I’ll be miss­ing the hard-working and faith­ful col­leagues and com­mit­tee mem­bers I got to serve with over the years. I’ll be work­ing on build­ing my tech career and look for­ward to new chal­lenges. Tran­si­tions are always a bit scary, so hold us in your prayers in this time.

Confessions of an Anti-Sactions Activist

There are a bunch of fas­ci­nat­ing rants against the con­tem­po­rary peace move­ment as the result of an arti­cle by Charles M. Brown, an anti-sanctions activist that has somewhat-unfairly chal­lenged his for­mer col­leagues at the Voic­es in the Wilder­ness. Brown talks quite frankly about his feel­ings that Sad­dam Hus­sein used the peace group for pro­pa­gan­da pur­pos­es and he chal­lenges many of the cul­tur­al norms of the peace move­ment. I don’t know if Brown real­ized just how much the anti-peace move­ment crowd would jump at his arti­cle. It’s got­ten play in InstaPun­dit and In Con­text: None So Blind.
Brown’s cri­tique is inter­est­ing but not real­ly fair: he faults Voic­es for hav­ing a sin­gle focus (sanc­tions) and sin­gle goal (chang­ing U.S. pol­i­cy) but what else should be expect­ed of a small group with no sig­nif­i­cant bud­get? Over the course of his work against sanc­tions Brown start­ed study­ing Iraqi his­to­ry as an aca­d­e­m­ic and he began to wor­ry that Voic­es dis­re­gard­ed his­tor­i­cal analy­sis that “did not take … Desert Storm as their point of depar­ture.” But was he sur­prised? Of course an aca­d­e­m­ic is going to have a longer his­tor­i­cal view than an under­fund­ed peace group. The sharp focus of Voic­es made it a wel­come anom­aly in the peace move­ment and gave it a strength of a clear mes­sage. Yes it was a prophet­ic voice and yes it was a large­ly U.S.-centric voice but as I under­stand it, that was much of the point behind its work: We can do bet­ter in the world. It was Amer­i­cans tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for our own people’s blind­ness and dis­re­gard for human life. That Iraq has prob­lems doesn’t let us off the hook of look­ing at our own culture’s skele­tons.
What I do find fas­ci­nat­ing is his behind-the-scenes descrip­tion of the cul­ture of the 1990s peace move­ment. He talks about the roots of the anti-sanctions activism in Catholic-Worker “dra­matur­gy.” He’s undoubt­ed­ly right that peace activists didn’t chal­lenge Baathist par­ty pro­pa­gan­da enough, that we used the suf­fer­ing of Iraqi peo­ple for our own anti-war pro­pa­gan­da, and that our analy­sis was often too sim­plis­tic. That doesn’t change the fact that hun­dreds of thou­sands of Iraqi chil­dren died from sanc­tions that most Amer­i­cans knew lit­tle about.
The peace move­ment doesn’t chal­lenge its own assump­tions enough and I’m glad Brown is shar­ing a self-critique. I wish he were a bit gen­tler and sus­pect he’ll look back at his work with Voic­es with more char­i­ty in years to come. Did he know the fod­der his cri­tique would give to the hawk­ish groups? Rather than recant his past as per the neo-conservative play­book, he could had offered his reflec­tions and cri­tique with an acknowl­eg­ment that there are plen­ty of good moti­va­tions behind the work of many peace activists. I like a lot of what Brown has to say but I won­der if peace activists will be able to hear it now. I think Brown will even­tu­al­ly find his new hawk­ish friends are at least as caught up in group-think, his­tor­i­cal myopia, and pro­pa­gan­da prop­a­ga­tion as the peo­ple he cri­tiques.
Voic­es in the Wilder­ness has done a lot of good edu­cat­ing Amer­i­cans about the effects of our poli­cies over­seas. It’s been hard and often-thankless work in a cli­mate that didn’t sup­port peace work­ers either moral­ly or finan­cial­ly. The U.S. is a much bet­ter place because of Voic­es and the peace move­ment was cer­tain­ly invig­o­rat­ed by its breath of fresh air.